Theodicy and Thanksgiving

Last Sunday in my sunday school class, we talked about prayer. Perennial questions came up, the most pressing of which was how to avoid having prayers asking for help, and giving thanks for good fortune, become things that cause harm to those around you. It is ultimately the same issue that got Job’s friends into trouble, only the flip side of it. They tried to interpret Job’s suffering in relation to God’s will and activity. Today more often people ignore those who are suffering but confidently proclaim that their own good fortune is an expression of divine providence.

But no one ought to say that, and certainly not confidently. Give thanks, express gratitude, but do so in a way that does not deliver the message that God favors you and dislikes or cares less for those around you.

Here are a couple of images to ponder in relation to this topic:

 

  • Jerome

    That’s what infuriates me about ‘intercessory prayer’ or people thanking their god for sparing them from a disaster! Yeah, right! So he saved you and let 324 other people die. You must be sooooooo special!!!

    Same for praying to a god to, for example, heal someone. If healing that child was a good idea then why wouldn’t this god do so by himself? Why would he wait, or have to wait, until someone asks him? And what if no one begs, eh, prays for this child? Then it’ll simply painfully die?

    And if the child dies despite the prayer? Ah, the Lord wanted it that way! Ok, fair enough, but then why pray for healing in the first place if your god does as he wishes anyway and if your prayers don’t change his mind??

    So, so many brain-hurting elements here …

    • R Vogel

      because then you can have that nice guilt feedback loop, they died because you didn’t pray hard enough or weren’t faithful enough. Gotta keep them in the fold somehow!

    • Allen

      Guys, you’re missing the point.. From the beginning of ages all God ever wanted is to have this pure Father-child type of relationships that is full of trust in Him and He’s delighted when he sees this even in this silly dress situation.

      For a long time, even being an active Christian, I looked sceptical on my wife or anyone describing how God would show His love in those little things, and then wondered why I don’t see so much God’s favor in my life? That’s the problem! Distant scepticism!

      It’s unfortunate but our world is full of suffering that was brought on by ourselves, by our (people’s) sinful choices. But by trusting in God and ACTING we can help to bring restoration to the hurting, knowing full well, R Vogel, that God has everything under control and there is no guilt or shame for those who is loved by our Father. And that’s including you by the way :)
      God bless you guys!

      • Jerome

        If your god wants to have a relationship with people then why is he hiding (or invisible and mute)?

      • Neko

        It’s unfortunate but our world is full of suffering that was brought on by ourselves, by our (people’s) sinful choices.

        There’s plenty of suffering in the world not incurred through human agency.

      • stewart

        Satire?

  • R Vogel

    I litterly just started trying to pray again because of this:

    “When you pray, you stand in solidarity with all those who pray.

    I pray because people around the world are dying and god-forsaken. They have nowhere to turn. They are helpless and powerless. Prayer represents that moment when all hope is gone and you turn your face heavenward looking for aid, comfort or solace. Looking for a miracle….

    In short, the act of prayer, for me at least, is a participation in the vast lament of humankind. Prayer is a visceral, collective weeping toward the heavens.”

    http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/01/why-i-pray-part-2-solidarity.html

    Its the only description I have ever read that makes sense to me.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      We talked about that in my Sunday school class. It was very much the sense that we had that prayer has a mystical and ineffable component, an attempt to articulate our deepest longings and to connect with God, and that the concern that prayer not be used to harm those around us need not mean that we remain silent.

      • Jerome

        But do you expect an answer? And do you really think that your prayers can influence a deity? That your prayers could change its mind?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          I personally try to refrain from assuming that, just because things go the way I hoped and articulated and cried out in desperation that they might, it is because there was an intervention to make that occur.

          • Jerome

            So if you don’t expect an intervention to occur then why do you pray? Just because it feels good? Which could be reason enough, of course.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              It doesn’t always feel good. But I think that calling out, articulating our concerns, expressing our care verbally, and envisaging casting our cares upon another are all helpful, even if it is not clear that they will necessarily produce a supernatural result of some sort.

        • Heather Pechin Myers

          God has the right to change his mind, or any Deity, just as much as you do. So, if I cry, “I just can’t take this anymore!” I hope he’s listening as helps me out!

          • Jerome

            Why would an omniscient deity change its mind? It already knows what the right course of action is before the thing actually happened, no?

            And how would this work? Your god sees that you’re suffering but he’s saying to himself: nah, I won’t help her. Why should i? And then when you start praying he’s like: Oh, well, why not?

            And what if he doesn’t help? Does that mean he wants you to suffer more?

  • Ed

    I think many good people lack a perspective larger than their little bubble; well intentioned, but obtuse. I have been a part of church systems in my past however that played the religious version of the game, “my daddy can beat up your daddy,” or “my dog is bigger than your dog.” It was not pretty.

  • Heather Pechin Myers

    I mentioned this in the discussion in the Sunday school class, but thought I would put it here too.
    Does prayer make a difference? Or were we pre-destined to do whatever we were going to do, or was that child pre-destined to die the way he did, or family member, or whomever you are praying for.
    Is prayer just for personal comfort or does it grow your relationship with your Heavenly Father/God?
    When people pray, do they take the time to listen to answers? As an LDS, personal revelation is a huge thing. Does God answer your prayers? How does he answer them? Does he talk to you in a “still small voice” or a “booming message?” When God answers, where do those answers come from? Him personally? Other human beings? The Holy Ghost/Spirit?
    I also had someone ask this week on another group, “Do we choose our trials before we come to Earth?” But then, that’s a whole other discussion! But then, why pray about it if we chose that trial? We can ask God for comfort and Guidance during our trials, but if we are “pre-destined” to go through them or have chosen those trials for ourselves, then, will he take those trials away from us?

    Just throwing those thoughts up there, and if anyone has thoughts to add to them, please do! :-)


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